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Even top writers make mistakes

Lee Goldberg continues his excellent commentary on A Writer’s Life and tackles all too familiar problems many writers face whether they’re at the top of their game or just starting out. Any writer can fall prey to slow beginnings, weak writing, and the conflicting desires of the writer versus the demands of the audience. Apparently Josh Friedman fell into the trap of wanting to explore psychological dimensions of his character Sarah Connor (TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES) too soon. He hadn’t done enough work to not only engage the viewers but lock them into the show before guiding them into a slower, deeper vein of character exploration. Today’s viewers and readers are increasingly demanding of writers. Their expectations are high and it doesn’t matter who you are. If you don’t get them hooked, don’t expect them to hang around while you indulge yourself. Don’t get me wrong. You can write whatever you want. Just be aware of the cost. And if you go forward, know that your writing had better be at the top of its game.

Goldberg’s blog posts offer more than tidbits and critiques. You’ll find insights into craft and lessons to be learned in his posts and in the discussion threads.

“He wanted to show the aftermath of terrible things happening, and he was in love with the idea of a whole town that’s struck by tragedy. Unfortunately, the execution wasn’t as great as it could have been.

“Don’t feel bad about not liking ‘The Desert Cantos,'” Friedman told me.

Friedman said the writers wrote down all 22 of the season’s episodes on a white board, and then went through and erased the weakest episode, and then the next weakest, until they were left with the best, by common consent. “The Desert Cantos” was the first episode to get erased, said Friedman.”

Even top writers can become enthralled with their writing and their ideas. What I like about the above is the implied exercise for all of us and one that resembles what I’ve learned from attending workshops given by literary agent Donald Maass. Push past your devotion to the beloved ideas and the darlings you’ve created and focus on what is best for the story and what is most important for the reader/viewer to experience. Trim the fat. Exercise and build up the muscular parts of the story. Go for the drama and make sure your reader inhabits your story. Be sure you’ve established that immediate emotional connection that is so important to today’s audience.

Reader Guyot offers this in the comment section and I’ll end with his advice:

“When I was writing a pilot with our friend Stephen J. Cannell, he said something so simple, yet so profound about how to make a show a success.

As we broke the pilot story, we were discussing how much stuff to put into the pilot, how far to go, and he said you always put everything in – the whole kitchen sink.

I asked, then what do you do with episodes 2 and 3? Cannell said, as only he can, ‘You get new kitchen sinks and do it again.’ So true.”

–Links: Lee Goldberg’s A Writer’s Life; Paul Guyot

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